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Ladies Get Paid: The Ultimate Guide to Breaking Barriers, Owning Your Worth, and Taking Command of Your Career

Claire Wasserman. Gallery, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982126-90-2

Wasserman, founder of the Ladies Get Paid networking site, devotes her helpful debut to breaking down the skills women need in order to succeed in business. It’s still hard for women to get paid fairly, Wasserman writes, whether in terms of financial compensation or respect and power. To remedy this, she walks readers through ways to take control of their careers. In each chapter, she illustrates her points with a relevant case study involving a woman she’s helped. For work-life balance, Wasserman discusses how Amy, after a period of worsening stress at her job, learned to prioritize self-care after overcoming her “lack of understanding of it, its origins, and all the different ways it can be implemented.” Discussing getting past harmful cultural messaging about work, Wasserman relates how Alisha, having chosen a higher-paying but less fulfilling gig as a consultant over her dream job as a writer, realized that “as much as she needed to be right for the company, the company had to be right for her as well.” Questions for self-exploration help readers personalize the tips to their own situation, whether they are floundering at work or just need direction to the next step up the ladder. Though the advice is not particularly new, the encouraging, all-in-this-together tone will be a beacon to women navigating the choppy waters of workplace patriarchy. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM Partners. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Artificial Life After Frankenstein

Eileen Hunt Botting. Univ. of Pennsylvania, $34.95 (306p) ISBN 978-0-8122-5274-3

Botting (Mary Shelley and the Rights of the Child), a University of Notre Dame political science professor, offers a thoughtful study of modern ethical issues concerning technology in the context of Mary Shelley’s novels Frankenstein and The Last Man. Pushing back against scenarios that see humanity as doomed by its technological creations, Botting finds an optimistic sense of possibility in Shelley’s works. Interpreting Frankenstein’s monster as an early example of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, Botting affirms the creature’s humanity and locates his destructive tendencies in his abandonment by his human creator. Rather than fearing the Singularity—the moment AI surpasses humanity—or trying to ban genetically engineered beings, society should, Botting argues, embrace them with compassion and a sense of commonality. With The Last Man, about the “ostensibly sole human survivor of a global plague in the year 2100,” Botting looks at how the protagonist gains a sense of hope from his conviction in the “existence of other sentient and intelligent life forms in the universe.” Botting’s literary study succeeds as an impressive and resounding challenge to technology-driven doomsday scenarios, replacing these with a vision of a gentler, kinder future in which humankind preserves both its existence and its best, most humane qualities. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them

Ethan Zuckerman. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-3240-0260-4

MIT Media Lab scholar Zuckerman (Digital Cosmopolitans) examines high levels of mistrust in social institutions across the Western world in this passionate yet somewhat meandering account. Zuckerman labels the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., passage of the Brexit referendum in the U.K., and the rise of populist strongmen in Hungary and Poland as right-wing “insurrections” that have exposed widespread public frustration with “the limits of our government and corporate systems.” Zuckerman examines the causes of these dissatisfactions, including rising inequality and greater public access to information (and misinformation), and offers a wide-ranging discussion of the ways in which battered institutions can be rebuilt and replaced. He draws from the works of Francis Fukuyama, Hannah Arendt, and Albert Hirschman, and references political, corporate, and social disruptions ranging from the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements to Bitcoin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Ending with a comparison of America during the Covid-19 pandemic to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Zuckerman argues that democratic participation is vital to enacting change and implores voters not to disengage from the political sphere. Readers hoping the 2020 elections bring a sea change in American politics will be galvanized by this optimistic account. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Dispatches from the Race War

Tim Wise. City Lights, $17.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-87286-809-0

Educator and public speaker Wise (White Lies Matter) examines white privilege and systemic racial inequality in this collection of previously published essays dating back to 2008. Even the older pieces—such as “Imagine for a Moment,” in which Wise describes “white gun enthusiasts” armed with semiautomatic weapons rallying in Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, and asks readers to imagine how different the authorities’ response would have been if the protesters were Black—have a deep relevance for today. More recent essays reveal that America is in the midst of a “soft civil war... between those who believe in freedom and those who do not,” by looking at how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated racial disparities, and by examining how President Trump’s “perpetually overheated rhetoric” has fanned the flames of “anti-immigrant hysteria.” In some pieces, Wise is more provoking than persuasive, such as when he declares modern conservatism “a cabal of hateful, ignorant, antisocial eugenicists intent on removing those they deem inferior from society.” Still, he offers sound advice on how to promote antiracism and “solidarity and empathy across lines of identity.” The result is a bracing call to action in a moment of social unrest. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization

Roland Ennos. Scribner, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-982114-73-2

Ennos (Trees), a professor of biological sciences at the University of Hull, delivers an illuminating and fluidly written study of “the central role of wood in the human story.” Drawing from archaeology, anthropology, biomechanics, and architecture, among other academic fields, Ennos documents the links between trees and timber and a wide range of historical milestones, from the evolution of the human hand (primates developed soft pads on their fingertips and nails instead of claws in order to better grip tree branches) to the Boston Tea Party (inspired by an earlier riot in New Hampshire against British laws prohibiting the harvesting of large white pine trees). Ennos also examines the complexity of everyday wooden items; notes that the cellular structure of wood inspired the structure of plastics; and details the use of laminated wood in recent construction projects, including the Forte tower in Australia and the Richmond Olympic Oval in Canada. Extended discussions of bronze, wrought iron, steel, concrete, and plastics somewhat undermine the central argument that mankind has never fully left “the age of wood.” Still, this expansive history will give readers a newfound appreciation for one of the world’s most ubiquitous yet overlooked materials. Agent: Peter Tallack, the Science Factory. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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What Would Nature Do: A Guide for Our Uncertain Times

Ruth Defries. Columbia Univ., $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-231-19942-1

Environmental geographer Defries (The Big Ratchet) presents a disappointing treatise on what humans could learn from how the Earth’s ecosystems maintain balance. Adopting an off-puttingly scolding tone, she writes that such problems as climate change, public health crises, and global market upsets are “the by-products of an energy-guzzling civilization,” and can be tackled using “time-tested tactics” from nature, such as diversification and self-correction. She makes a good case for her contention that humans should learn from nature, and to that end explains how a rejected Cold War–era proposal for a decentralized military communication network, modeled on the “loopy” vein structure of plant leaves, later became a model for the internet. Elsewhere, she analyzes “Smokey Bear’s Blunder”: the National Park Service’s misbegotten policy, symbolized by the mascot, of trying to prevent all forest fires, before it was understood that small wildfires help to clear deadwood and “limit damage” from larger blazes. Unfortunately, her anecdotes are marred by a sermonizing tone. (“Continue your experiments... but do so with humility. Expect that your limited knowledge, human foibles, or more likely both will thwart your efforts.”) Readers in search of a strong discussion of environmental issues should look elsewhere. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Rebels, Scholars, Explorers: Women in Vertebrate Paleontology

Annalisa Berta and Susan Turner. Johns Hopkins University, $49.95 (344p) ISBN 978-1-4214-3970-9

Paleontologists Berta and Turner deliver a valuable encyclopedia of female vertebrate paleontologists, or VPs. Their instructive, well-organized reference, targeted at readers with some knowledge of the field (not all terminology is defined), highlights how women have helped vertebrate paleontology shape science’s “understanding of the history of life.” Berta and Turner begin with 19th-century “bone-hunting icon” Mary Anning, discoverer of a nearly intact plesiosaur in 1824, following up with brief biographies of other important figures, such as Fanny Rysam Mulford Hitchcock, the first American female VP to publish, and Elga Mark-Kurik, who uncovered a transitional fossil between fish and land-dwelling animals. Along with historical firsts and discoveries, the coauthors share some maddening tales of gender inequity, such as about Mary Buckland, forbidden by her husband, fellow VP William Buckland, from attending scientific conferences. This didn’t prevent him from relying on her help: when he “awoke with an idea about fossil tracks at two o’clock one morning,” she gamely helped “by covering the kitchen table with pie crust dough while he fetched their pet tortoise and together they confirmed” that its footprints matched those of a recently discovered fossil. Women in science will appreciate Berta and Turner’s tribute to female trailblazers in paleontology. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Philosophy for Polar Explorers

Erling Kagge, trans. from the Norwegian by Kenneth Steven. Pantheon, $20 (192p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4911-8

Explorer Kagge (Walking: One Step at a Time) reflects on the forces that drove him to become “the first [person] to reach the Earth’s three poles on foot” in this enjoyable adventure story. He discusses how his aspirations shifted from youthful fantasies of “being a fireman, a footballer, an astronaut, and a superhero all at once” to more realistic, but still extraordinary, ambitions. His ventures combined a lifelong attachment to the natural world with a desire to achieve milestones with minimal assistance: in 1990 he and a companion reached the North Pole without using snowmobiles, sled dogs, or supply depots; in 1993 he walked to the South Pole by himself, followed by a climb to the summit of Mount Everest the next year. Making such extreme experiences relatable to less daring audiences, Kagge admits that he found just getting up in the morning at the right time to be “a polar explorer’s greatest challenge,” and he describes raising three children as his “fourth pole.” His continued wonder at the world and openness to the unexpected make for a refreshingly optimistic perspective. This moving and sometimes amusing look at how one man fulfilled his aspirations will charm both armchair and real-life adventurers. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Best American Sports Writing 2020

Edited by Jackie MacMullan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-35819-699-0

This, the final planned entry to the Best American Sports Writing series, sends the lauded annual anthologies out on a high note after a 25-year run. “The most compelling stories are ones we can feel and touch and imagine, without much difficulty, that we are there,” MacMullan writes. Three particularly memorable stories mark this installment: In “For People Suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Baseball Brings Back Fun Memories” by Bill Plaschke, elderly Alzheimer’s patients trade baseball tales as therapy; “As the Border Bled, Juárez Watched the Game It Waited Nine Years For” by Roberto José Andrade Franco relates a soccer club’s revival in one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities; and “Shooting a Tiger” by Bryan Burrough follows the bloody hunt for a man-eating tiger in India. Along with well-detailed accounts of sports concussions and heatstroke, there is “Did Venus Williams Ever Get Her Due?” by Elizabeth Weil, a revealing profile of the tennis great, and “Patriot Act” by May Jeong, a blistering exposé of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. This final, sparkling outing is a must-read for all sports lovers. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Alright, Alright, Alright

Melissa Maerz. Harper, $26.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-290850-6

In this exhaustively researched debut, Vulture founding editor Maerz weaves an intricate oral history of Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic film Dazed and Confused. Based on more than a hundred interviews with Linklater, the film’s cast, studio executives, and others, Maerz digs into Linklater’s childhood; the success of his previous film, Slackers; and production details, including the casting of then-unknowns Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey. Open hedonism and drama among the young cast (“behind the scenes, these kids were unleashed”) made for a rowdy on-set experience, and Linklater was later hit with class-action lawsuits by real-life characters Bobby Wooderson, Rick Floyd, and Andy Slater, who felt they were misrepresented in the movie. Maerz insists that it is “nearly impossible” not to identify with the film’s characters or situations, but also scrutinizes the reasons behind the film’s glaring lack of diversity (“Texas was still pretty segregated, even in the ’70s”) and shines a spotlight on behind-the-scenes misogyny (“There’s a demeaning of women that goes on that’s just normal”). Maerz’s debut is—much like Linklater’s film—inconclusive, but it’s one any cinephile would be happy to check out. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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